OMAHA, Neb. -- It's a good thing Mississippi State head coach John Cohen doesn't mind going to his bullpen earlier than expected.
Oregon State, building off its hot weekend against Kansas State in the Corvallis Super Regional, touched up Mississippi State starting pitcher Kendall Graveman for two runs in the first inning, and another in the fourth, prompting Cohen and the Bulldogs to resort to their bullpen in the middle innings, as they've had to do so many times this season.
And right on schedule, the MSU bullpen took care of business and did enough to allow the offense to get back into the game, and eventually put the club in position to beat the Beavers. That's when MSU turned things over to right-handed closer Jonathan Holder to secure a 5-4 win over Oregon State to begin the College World Series.
"That game was pretty sloppy at the beginning, and we didn't feel good about some of the defensive decisions we made," Cohen said. "But the character of this bunch is pretty unbelievable. We can do some dumb things and still come out with a win."
The beginning of the game consisted of the two teams trading punches. Though the Beavers scored two runs in the bottom of the first inning, the Bulldogs answered back on the top half of the second inning with three runs of their own on a pair of RBI singles from third baseman Sam Frost and outfielder DeMarcus Henderson, while C.T. Bradford scored on Henderson's via an error in the outfield.
Oregon State answered back in the fourth and fifth innings with single runs to take a 4-3 lead over the Bulldogs, prompting Cohen to turn things over to his bullpen, particularly crafty left-handed pitcher Ross Mitchell.
"We knew it was going to take a village of pitchers to get the job done," Cohen said.
In Friday's pre-series press conference, Cohen took pride in the fact he has a bullpen they can often rely on, along with several guys who don't mind having those roles. Cohen pointed out that pitchers head to college with hopes of being starting pitchers, not necessarily middle relievers setting up guys like Jonathan Holder to close out contests.
Mitchell, though, has never been greedy. He's just glad to be out there. The crafty lefty, who has interesting arm action and tops out around 84-85 with his fastball, did just enough to setup the MSU offense late in the game for a strong run, allowing three hits in 2 2/3 shutout innings.
Mitchell improves to an astonishing 13-0 on the season out of the bullpen.
"I just think the starting pitchers set me up real well because I'm such a different pitcher than they are," he said. "I might not be the pitcher I am right now if the starters aren't a little different before me. It has worked out well.
"That's all I really wanted to do, just keep putting up zeroes," Mitchell continued. "This whole season, our hitters have been coming up in the clutch, so I wanted to do my job. Sometimes I wish I was someone else [in terms of role], but what I'm doing right now is what I have to go out there and do. It's hard to face me the first time you see me, so I really bear down on hitters."
While Mitchell once again shined out of the bullpen in his 32nd appearance of the season, the Bulldogs' offense finally delivered the knockout punch in the eighth inning.
After Mississippi State's Alex Detz delivered a one-out single in the eighth, the Beavers decided to turn things over to ace left-handed pitcher Matt Boyd. Boyd made an uncharacteristic relief performance against Kansas State last weekend, and did well in the outing. This time, though, the Beavers felt the need to go with Boyd with freshman left-handed pitcher Max Engelbrekt still on the shelf because of back spasms, and Renfroe, for instance, hitting 754-80 points higher against right-handed pitchers like fellow reliever Scott Schultz.
Boyd replaced Oregon State freshman right-handed pitcher Andrew Moore, who willed his way to a 7 1/3 innings of work, allowing four runs on six hits, while also striking and walking two each.
Boyd gave up a single to Bulldogs outfielder Hunter Renfroe, before two batters later, with two outs, imposing MSU first baseman Wes Rea, who entered the College World Series hitting .325 in the postseason, delivered a two-RBI double to take a 5-4 lead.
Holder closed things out in the eighth and ninth inning, though not without some drama as Oregon State's Danny Hayes flew out to deep right field to end the contest.
"It's impressive what he [Wes Rea] has been doing the past few weeks, just punching the ball through the middle of the field," Cohen said. "We're just really fortunate to win that game, and the last swing of the game tells you that."
Once again, on the grandest stage in college baseball, Cohen and Mississippi State weren't afraid to turn things over to the bullpen earlier than expected.
And it paid off ... again.